That’s a light topic, huh?

I just read this post from a great blog written by Mostafa Hussein, an Egyptian doctor, about witnessing a 10-year-old girl be admitted to his hospital after undergoing a circumcision. He gives a harrowing description of the look in the girls eyes as she was admitted:

The look tells you that this person have seen and felt horror and great anxiety. It is very different from the look of a person in the worst of pain, a child dying or even a mother seeing her dead child. It is worse.

Eventually, she was treated for minor bleeding and released. People in the West have always questioned this practice and most, including me, consider it barbaric. But I’ve always wondered about attitudes towards it in the countries in which it is still practiced.

I made a short film last year about a woman from the Ivory Coast who immigrated to the United States in part because her mother wouldn’t stop threatening to circumcise her daughter. She had to make sure that her daughter wasn’t alone with her mother at all times. The woman herself was circumcised, and it has caused her great emotional and physical pain her whole life. She can’t have an orgasm, and childbirth has been even more grueling that it would have been.

She is strongly opposed to the practice, of course. But she’s had to fight tribal traditions and her own mother to keep the practice away from her daughter. Everyone in her family questioned her decision as if it was somehow insulting to not circumcise the girl.

As a Westerner who believes in the rights of the individual versus the rights of the community, the question for me is why a community would force such a harmful practice — a practice that sometimes kills — on its own people. Mostafa asks a similar question:

Now why this act patriarchal oppression and torture that forces their own into pain and hopelessness? Why sacrifice your own daughter's well being to a custom that brings terror and fear? And if you don't care about her well being, and if it is all about survival? Is this custom so important for her survival?

I get the sense that people find the custom important not because it is intended for the girls’ survival, but for the survival of the community. As they feel more threatened by the outside world, they hold on to this life-threatening behavior even more tightly, as if in defiance. Meanwhile, 10-year-old girls are being rushed to the hospitals and some are dying because of this tradition.

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